NEWFANE -- The town's newest bridge may become private property in the not-so-distant future.
Having overseen federally-financed reconstruction of Lynch Bridge after the span was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene's floodwaters in August 2011, Newfane Selectboard now is considering "discontinuance" of the town's ownership of the bridge as well as the short, adjoining Lynch Bridge Road.
While that may seem counterintuitive for a recently rebuilt structure, officials say allowing the properties to revert to private ownership will insulate the town from having to undertake another extended repair job if floods return.
"If the town is still responsible for it, then we face the same issue again," Selectboard Chairman Gary Katz said.
Irene-fueled flooding washed away both Hunter Brook Bridge and Lynch Bridge in the hard-hit Dover Road corridor. It took years for both spans to be rebuilt: Hunter Brook was completed in November 2013, while the new Lynch Bridge was finished in June of this year.
Both jobs were eligible for disaster funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But there also were major differences between the projects.
While there was never any doubt about the need to reconstruct Hunter Brook Bridge, Lynch Bridge had served just one property before the flood. For that reason, officials had considered buying that property and not replacing the bridge, then using affiliated FEMA funding for other town improvements.
That process came to a halt when town voters in November 2012 nixed the property purchase. So officials pushed forward with rebuilding Lynch Bridge, awarding a $536,886 contract last year to Vernon-based Renaud Bros. Inc.
Now, though, the question is whether the town should continue to own and maintain the short span that crosses the rock river. Officials noted that the affected property is a rental home that has remained unoccupied.
The new bridge is "only going to basically an abandoned house right at the moment," Selectboard Vice Chairman Todd Lawley said.
Katz reasoned that, if the town had purchased the property and had not rebuilt the bridge, Newfane would have been left with an essentially useless piece of land.
"If there is no bridge to it, then there's no access," he said. "Which renders the property much less valuable."
Some see the town now getting the best outcome from a bad situation: The affected land stays in private ownership and on the town's tax rolls, and discontinuing the bridge by transferring its ownership to the adjoining property owner absolves Newfane of any future maintenance and repairs.
Making the deal more palatable is the fact that the project was federally funded. Though the town ultimately will incur some costs, FEMA reimbursement will cover the vast majority of the price tag.
If the town had paid for the new bridge, Katz acknowledged that discontinuance so soon after reconstruction might be a touchy topic. In fact, it's not clear whether the town would have pursued the matter at all.
"I don't know the answer to that," he said. "I think it would have been a more difficult issue."
But the Selectboard now has agreed to start the process of discontinuing both the bridge and several hundred feet of road. There is a strict legal process to follow, but Selectboard member Chris Druke -- who has worked on many FEMA-related issues -- said that process "shouldn't be difficult."
"It's going to take a little time for warned meetings and so on, to put it through," Druke said.
The schedule for those meetings has not been set, but Katz promised that the Selectboard will "listen to whatever comes up at the public meeting, consider it seriously and then make a decision one way or the other."
"I think, unless someone can demonstrate that they're personally grieved in some way by (discontinuance) happening, then the town's interest in not having to worry about this issue in the future might trump other objections," he said.
In another Irene-related matter, officials said work continues on federally funded property buyouts. Three such buyouts have been completed on Dover Road, Stratton Hill Road and Hickey Road; another buyout at 279 Dover Road may close later this month or in early September.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.